THE 6000 hectares of land that Hunter Water bought for the now defunct Tillegra dam is back in private hands, including those of at least one local who wants to revive dairy farming in the area and boost its tourism potential.
The dam proposal was ‘‘finally put to bed’’, Hunter Water managing director Kim Wood said, with the sale of the property in five lots, ranging from 1000 hectares to 1300 hectares, and a separate parcel of 86 hectares.
Significantly, about 130 hectares of the land is subject to a covenant for an exclusion zone of 30 metres on either side of the Williams River, which will entail fencing and new native trees to prevent cattle entering the river and improve water quality.
The land hit the market earlier this year and attracted 32 expressions of interest, including five bids for the entire site.
Hunter Water is tight lipped on the identity of the buyers, described as a mix of local and Sydney residents.
But among them is Settlers Arms publican and Dungog councillor Tracy Norman, who has plans for an artisan cheese factory, supported by a dairy farm, as well as beef cattle and free-range pigs and chickens.
She has bought the Munni portion of the land, about 1300 hectares, and wants to use the historic Munni House as an educational centre for sustainable farming practices, which she has studied.
In the longer-term, she has hopes to establish an eco-tourism resort.
‘‘We’re looking at some good employment opportunities for the people of Dungog. It’s a real passion of mine, the youth of Dungog particularly, and giving them a reason to stay around Dungog after they leave school,’’ she said.
Cr Norman was involved with the No Tillegra Dam group and saw the angst the dam caused in the community.
‘‘I think whichever side of the argument that you were on, and there were strong opinions obviously on both sides, at least now there’s a bit of certainty so I think people can get on with their lives,’’ she said.
‘‘I just think it’s great to have some positive news for Dungog because we have been through a rough time of late.’’
The $477 million dam was announced then dumped years later by the former Labor government.
The Tillegra land was valued late last year at $48 million. Hunter Water spent twice as much to buy it.
The state government has instead introduced water wise rules for the region, and Hunter Water plans to expand the pipeline connecting its network to the Central Coast, providing for the transfer of up to 11 billion litres of water a year should the region’s dam levels plummet.